The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
Arthur C. Clarke Award Finalist 2016
Shortlisted for the 2016 British Fantasy Awards for Best Newcomer
Longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction
Longlisted for the 2015 Tiptree Award
Shortlisted in the 2015 Kitschies for Best Debut
I loved Becky Chamber’s debut novel The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet a lot, but I can totally understand why this book was, at first, self-published. It reads like a really well-written epic fan fic. This sounds an awful lot like a dis, but I mean no disrespect–none at all. In fact, I think Chambers’ book is what novels are going to be like in the future.
Here’s the thing, there’s no real plot.
Sure, stuff happens to our ensemble cast of characters—the multi-specied crew of a wormhole digging spaceship—but there’s no overarching conflict. Nothing is ever really at stake. The ship and crew just make their way to their worksite.
Literally, that’s it.
They’re in danger from time to time, but they mostly resolve things episodically, almost immediately after they happen. Pirates board the ship? Oh, well, some quick thinking and negotiation sends them on their way with our captain suffering a broken jaw and the loss of some food and cargo, but all that gets replaced and healed by the next chapter. One of the characters, a tech/engineer, suffers a bit of PTSD about the incident, but a nice chat with some friendly aliens puts an end to that two more chapters in.
If there’s any thematic/conflict arc to this story it’s a quiet, simple one. Rosemary, our erstwhile main character (we actually get everyone’s p.o.v. eventually) discovers that, in fleeing her family of origin, she has discovered her true, “made” family.
Someone on Goodreads dissed this novel as reminding them of: “…the generic social media profile some people go for, which has an attractive happy-clappy surface, but where ultimately, there’s something weirdly estranging about the 2-d love-in.”
Yeah, that’s fairly accurate. But that doesn’t negate the fact that I still loved the hell out of it.
I think I loved it for the same reasons that a really good fan fic can be deeply satisfying. The characters and their interactions were marvelous and charming af. I wanted to live with these people and follow them around as they did their day-to-day stuff. Given the lack of conflict, this book should have been boring, but I whizzed through this 513-page book in one weekend. When got to the end, I shook my Kindle, hoping that 513 more pages might fall out, because I wanted MOAR, as the kids say. So. Much. MOAR.
I would lay money on the idea we’re going to see of this kind of story a lot in our future. The twenty-somethings of today have been weaned on reading fan fic and their requirements for plot are very different than those of my parent’s generation.
And if it leads to more books like this? The future is very bright.